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The Story of One of America's First Documented Cop Killings

March 24, 2015  | 

The handwritten indictment of John Ryer. (Photo: Westchester County (N.Y.) Archives)
The handwritten indictment of John Ryer. (Photo: Westchester County (N.Y.) Archives)

On May 17, 1792, Westchester Deputy Sheriff Isaac Smith was asked by a constable for help at Hunt's Inn, a tavern and wagon stop in what is now the Bronx. Once there, he encountered flintlock-brandishing John Ryer, a drunken ne'er-do-well who'd had frequent run-ins with the law. Words were exchanged and Smith told Ryer that he was under arrest.

According to the hand-written murder indictment found at the Westchester County Archives in Elmsford, Ryer held two pistols "charged with gunpowder," each containing "one Leaden Bullet." As the confrontation escalated, Ryer "willfully," and with "malice... did shoot and discharge" the weapon in his left hand, resulting in "one mortal wound of the depth of five inches and of the breadth of half an inch" in Smith's chest," the indictment says.

As Smith lay dying, Ryer jumped on his horse and galloped away.

"This was the Wild West back then," retired New York City Police Sgt. Michael Bosak said in a 1999 Journal News interview. An unofficial NYPD historian, Bosak was researching a book when he discovered the Ryer case in court papers. "I knew right away that Smith must have been the first officer killed in the United States."

Smith was considered the first officer killed in the line of duty in the United States until 2011, when researchers discovered records on the 1791 murder of Columbia County (N.Y.) Sheriff Cornelius Hogeboom, the Journal News reports.

Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

kevCopAz @ 3/25/2015 3:52 PM

Sad, doesn't matter when or where in the world, people are people and criminals are criminals. Evil will always be with us. Know that each of you in Law Enforcement are the righteous shield defending against such evil. Thanks you for all that you do and risk….everyday.

John Compatore @ 5/15/2015 9:59 PM

KevCopAz is right, that cops are the "Righteous Shield" for society, against evil being done to them. But, even more than shielding the public, LEO's are probably some of the finest "citizen soldiers" this country ever saw. I mean, after retiring from the Oakland PD, I can truthfully say that in my time I knew 1, only 1 OPD officer to ever serve time for commission of a crime - that's since the 1960's. In short, if you have a cop for a neighbor (active or retired), then you've got built-in security and probably one of the most decent individuals you will ever meet. These guys are the Eagle Scouts of your city, town or village - if you can appreciate that analogy.

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